Prevent and manage fatigue in transport, logistics and warehousing

Learn about the risks associated with fatigue and develop strategies to help prevent and manage it.

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Overview

How this helps your business

Fatigue is more than feeling drowsy. It is an acute, ongoing state of exhaustion that leads to physical, mental or emotional exhaustion and stops people functioning safely and within their normal boundaries.

Fatigue has an impact not only on your employees' mental and physical health, but can also impact on others in your workplace including your clients and the broader community. Fatigue can result in increased sick leave, errors and vehicle accidents occurring. Further, slower reaction times affect your employees' ability to make good decisions.

All of these impacts have negative effects on your employees, workplace, and the community.

Key stats and facts


50  

deaths per year in Victoria due to road accidents involving fatigue.

TAC, 2015, Fatigue statistics


40%  

of all WorkSafe claims are due to body stresses.


17 hours  

of being awake impairs performance at an equivalent to a 0.05 blood alcohol content.

Step 1

Learn more on this topic

Fatigue management is a complex issue that does not have a simple fix to suit every person and every workplace. Understanding some of the issues related to fatigue will help your workplace prevent and manage the risk more effectively.

Factors that can contribute to fatigue include: work which involves long hours, intense mental, physical or emotional effort, repetitiveness, and shift work when the body is naturally set for sleep. Some additional risk factors in your industry may include: the physical work environment including harsh or uncomfortable environmental conditions, heat, cold, inadequate lighting or vibration; poor environmental design such as not having opportunities for employees to separate from the public and take adequate rest; or an overall skills shortage in some parts of the sector.

Fatigue has both short term and long term effects on people.

Short term effects of fatigue have been compared to being intoxicated with alcohol. Fatigue results in people having a reduced ability to:

  • concentrate and avoid distraction
  • make decisions
  • maintain alertness
  • control emotions
  • understand complex situations
  • recognise risks
  • coordinate hand-eye movements
  • communicate effectively

Fatigue can also:

  • increase error rates
  • slow reaction times
  • increase the likelihood of accidents and injuries
  • cause micro-sleeps

Long term effects of fatigue include a higher risk of developing health issues such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, depression or gastrointestinal disorders.

Step 2

Write or review your policy

Leaders who see fatigue as important as other health and safety risks are taking the first step in designing work that addresses fatigue in the workplace.

Work and lifestyle often impact each other. Fatigue is not only a risk at work, it can be a risk outside of work. If a worker leaves their job exhausted, it may decrease their ability to perform their other life roles, and potentially increase their risk of vehicle accidents driving home. Likewise, if a worker arrives at work fatigued their performance may be reduced. With many workers in your industry in casual roles or sub-contracted positions, some workers have more than one job, so it is important to understand if there are any other factors that may contribute to fatigue.

Workers have a responsibility to take reasonable care of their own health and safety and arrive at work ready for duty. However, a number of personal reasons such as being a new parent or having an unwell child, can make arriving at work tired unavoidable. In a mentally healthy workplace, with high levels of trust and respect, staff are encouraged to report fatigue, whether it is work related or not. Staff can then negotiate short term role or task changes to allow for recovery.

Creating a fatigue management policy and procedure can help to communicate your workplace's position on fatigue. A fatigue management policy may be a stand-alone policy or could be integrated with other work health and safety policies and procedures.

Consider including the following information in your fatigue policy:

  • roles and responsibilities in fatigue management
  • planning and designing work schedules and rosters
  • work-related travel and commuting risks
  • control measures for specific high risk tasks
  • self-assessment fatigue checklists
  • procedures for reporting potential hazards and fatigue risks
  • procedures for self-reporting fatigue
  • employment outside the organisation
  • procedures for managing fatigued workers, including what will happen if they are too fatigued to continue work (e.g. temporary task re-allocation)

In developing your fatigue management policy, affected staff and/or their health and safety representatives must be consulted. Take a look at the template below for some ideas on what your policy might look like.

As per the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR), fatigue management is a primary duty. A driver must not drive a fatigue-regulated heavy vehicle on a road while affected by fatigue.

Step 3

Consult your staff

Consultation with your employees about fatigue is an opportunity to share information, give staff an opportunity to talk about their experiences of fatigue and workshop practical ways to address fatigue.

Make sure you consider and engage everyone working in your organisation who may be impacted by mental and physical fatigue risk. Research says that a number of roles in the transport, manufacturing, logistics and warehousing industry are at an increased risk of fatigue in the workplace, including:

  • pilots
  • cabin crew
  • fleet and air traffic controllers
  • vehicle drivers
  • ship and vessel crews
  • warehousing workers
  • taxi and courier drivers
  • contractors
  • staff who work with flammable or explosive substances
  • product assemblers
  • machine operators

Fatigue can also affect people other than your employees, such as clients and the general public.

Here are some ideas to start the discussion:

  • Ask the question – 'what unusual, strange or potentially unsafe things have you done at work due to being fatigued?'
  • Discuss how community attitudes have changed towards safety. Encourage your workplace to think about fatigue in the same way we think about working under the influence of alcohol and drugs.
  • Help staff to become informed decision makers about their fitness to work based on fatigue.
  • Educate staff about personal risk assessments and develop a culture of feeling safe to report when fatigued.
  • Educate staff about microsleeps and the possible negative outcomes.
  • Allocate additional human resources when fatigue risks are high.
  • Challenge the 'badge of honour' culture of working when fatigued.
  • Consider high risk tasks that can be avoided on night shift or early morning when fatigue risks might be higher.

Make sure your employees and/or their health and safety representatives are consulted when:

  • planning and designing work schedules and rosters
  • making decisions on how to manage the risks of fatigue
  • proposing changes to working hours, work schedules and procedures
  • making decisions about providing information and training on fatigue
  • after an incident or 'near miss' where fatigue was a factor

Share the tips for avoiding fatigue from Appendix 3 in WorkSafe Victoria's Fatigue prevention in the workplace resource with your employees to provide further awareness in your workplace.

Step 4

Assess the risk

Work in your industry has mental, physical and emotional fatigue risks. Mental fatigue can be caused by work that requires being alert or continuous concentration with minimal variety in work such as driving, or work performed under pressure, with tight deadlines, or interacting with the public.

Physical fatigue can be caused by work that is physically tiring and repetitive such as repeated manual handling, loading and unloading, servicing or repair work and the use of machinery and vehicles.

Emotional fatigue can be caused by work that is emotionally exhausting, where ability to engage in emotional activities, such as empathising with or caring for others is reduced. Emotional fatigue might also be referred to as compassion fatigue in the context of work, that requires empathy or caring for others.

Rostering and shift allocation is a major part of managing fatigue. Safe Work Australia's Guide for managing the risk of fatigue at work provides some useful guidelines for shift design, for example:

  • Offer workers a choice of a permanent roster or rotating shifts.
  • Restrict the number of successive night shifts (no more than three to four if possible).
  • Avoid early morning starts and move early shift starts before 6am forward (for example a 7am start not a 6am one).
  • Avoid long working hours (more than 50 hours per week).
  • Build regularly free weekends into the shift schedule, at least every three weeks.
  • Use a rapid rotation of shifts (a select number of days) or a slow rotation of shifts (a select number of weeks). Shift design should take into account individual differences and preferences as far as possible. Use forward rotation (morning/afternoon/night).
  • Arrange start/finish times of the shift to be convenient for public transport, social and domestic activities.
  • Account for travelling time of workers.

Some employees experience fatigue because of moonlighting. Moonlighting happens when an employee takes on a shift or other work outside of their regular employment, normally when they are meant to have a rostered day off. Moonlighting is common and workers are entitled to take on extra work if they choose to.

Some researchers are encouraging employers and employee associations (e.g. unions) to consider a Prior Sleep Wake Model (PSWM) rather than an Hours of Service (HOS) focus. That is, ensuring workers have adequate time to rest and recover prior to the next shift.

Review your organisation's physical and mental health risk register. Check whether fatigue is included as a risk, or whether you need to consider adding it.

Review the WorkSafe Victoria fatigue hazards identification checklist and the fatigue risk assessment chart below. Use data including incident reports, near misses, and the injury register to assess your fatigue risk and identify any links.

Some organisations use a Fatigue Risk Calculator such as the Health and Safety Executive Fatigue and Risk Index, which helps identify where the most serious fatigue risks are. These are best used in combination with other risk assessment methods, including consultation with your staff.

Consider fatigue risk when conducting enterprise agreement negotiations in your workplace.

Many industries have specific information and regulations to manage fatigue. Find out if there is an independent regulator that has requirements to manage fatigue in your workplace. Additional links to more specific industry information about fatigue management is available via the 'Other resources' tab.

Step 5

Manage the risks

The best way to control fatigue risks is to remove the main causes of fatigue in the workplace. Fatigue can occur from a combination of factors, so the most effective way is likely to be a combination of solutions.

When deciding on risk controls for your workplace, identify the controls you already have in place and whether they are working. Find out what other organisations similar to yours are doing to manage fatigue. Ensure that you consult with your employees and HSRs.

The WorkSafe Victoria guide below uses the hierarchy of controls. Start by attempting to eliminate fatigue risk at the source before considering measures that rely on work procedures. Read the work-related guidance below to see what controls your workplace could consider.

Watch this short video from SafeWork NSW which shows how a transport company works with their employees to manage fatigue in the workplace. Listen out for the positives that come from managing fatigue.

Further information on how to manage fatigue related risks in the workplace can be found from page 9 to 12 in Safe Work Australia's 'Guide for managing the risk of fatigue at work'. The NHVR provides information on how to manage fatigue including counting work time and rest time, electronic work diaries, record keeping, work and rest requirements and training for management.

Straightshot Transport - Mental health and fatigue

Step 6

Review and keep improving

To continue to improve prevention of work-related fatigue, control measures, policies and procedures must be monitored, evaluated and reviewed.

Talk with your staff using the following questions:

  • Have control measures been implemented as planned?
  • Are they working?
  • Are there any new problems?

Consider how often you might need to review fatigue risks, controls and the overarching policy.
Think about:

  • the level of risk – high-risk hazards may need more frequent assessments
  • reviewing incidents, near misses, injuries and other data, such as absenteeism and staff turnover rates, to establish if they could be related to fatigue
  • monitoring how often staff are comfortable reporting fatigue issues
  • monitoring how teams respond to high fatigue risk events
  • further review of control measures when there is workplace change

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